Dangerous New Car Features

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New cars have become so “safe” they’re becoming dangerous. They have systems which make an accident more likely – while touting how much more crashworthy they are now vs. previously.

Arguably, the safer policy would be to avoid the crash.

But that’s getting harder to do when the car second-guesses your steering inputs – and forcibly attempts to “correct” them  just one for-instance of new saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety technology being Borg’d into more and more new cars.

Formally, it’s styled Lane Keep Assist or Steer Assist, or something along those lines (depending on the brand of the car).

It’s actually the leading edge of the camel’s nose under the tent for automated driving technology, designed more to get us used to the idea of the car driving us rather than us driving the car. It is marketed as a way to make steering “easier” (as well as saaaaaaaafer) via electric motors that “assist” your steering – though this is hard to grok given all new cars built since the ‘80s have power-assisted steering and are already easy to steer.

But these new systems do more than “assist.”

They countermand your steering. The little motors turn the wheel in the opposite direction you’ve turned it. Which is unnerving as well as neither easy or saaaaaaaaaafe. Having to fight the car, for one, isn’t much in the way of assistance or ease. And unexpected steering inputs opposite your own can be most un-saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafe.

It happens when deviate from your lane, both unintended and intentional. It’s the latter thing that presents the saaaaaaaaaaaaafety hazard.

If you fail to signal before steering, as when making a lane change – the system will counter-steer. Because the system is designed to keep you in your lane. It’s sold as a way to check sloppy/distracted driving. But it’s also a system to enforce mindless rule-following, even at the expense of . . . saaaaaaaaaaafety.

Cameras in the front of the car pan the road ahead, using the painted lines on either side of the car to orient the car’s position in its lane. If the car wanders to the left or right – treading on the painted lines, this cues the electric motors connected to the steering wheel to nudge the steering wheel in the opposite direction – to keep the car in its lane.

Hence Lane Keep Assist.

As a sidebar: It’d be wiser to instill paying-attention in drivers rather than install idiot-proofing technology in cars, which only assures more not-paying-attention drivers.

But what happens when you purposely tread on a painted line – as when exiting the road or changing lanes? The system is dumb; it does not understand that you’re not wandering across your lane but changing lanes on purpose.

Unless you signal. Then it knows – and the electric motors don’t try to fight your lane change. So these systems are also another nudge in the ribs, to make you a better rule-obeying Clover.

But why should you signal when there’s no reason to – other than mindless totemic worship of traffic laws and to placate the car’s mindless saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety system? If you are the only car on the road – this actually happens – signaling when no other cars are around is as retarded as knocking on your own bathroom door before entering, to make sure no one’s in there when you know you’re the only person in the house.

Or coming to a complete stop at a four-way stop sign in the desert with clear lines of sight for miles in every direction and it’s obvious there’s no traffic to stop for and so no good reason to waste gas and time and wear and tear on the car to completely stop . . . for the sake of totemic appeasement of a sign.

Even when you do signal, the “assist” is still generally unnerving, especially if you’re not used to it – or are a new/skittish driver. It is likely there will be accidents – caused by this saaaaaaaaaaaaafety system. People will feel the car steering contrary to their wishes, their desired course – and jerk the wheel the other way. As a guy who tests drives new cars every week, I can attest from personal experience in dozens of brand-new cars equipped with this technology that it presents a definite saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety risk – yet it’s not only allowed but encouraged by the same government which croons its crocodile-teared concern for “our safety” at every turn.

Really?

Then why – to shift gears a little bit – does it allow Tesla to bundle all the car’s controls onto a single flat screen display mounted out of the driver’s line of sight? One which requires the driver to look away from the road to do everything else while he is supposed to be driving? If it is “distracted driving” to tap and swipe at a cell phone while driving how is it not the same thing when a driver is tapping and swiping an in-car screen that amounts to the same thing, just scaled up?

Another case in point:

Many new cars have something styled Automated Emergency Braking – on deck to be mandatory a few years from now. These systems sound like an ok idea. Addled/distracted driver not paying attention, fails to notice the car ahead is braking. The car brakes itself, to avoid a rear-ender.

In fact – and this is also from experience – the system is belligerently hyper-cautious and will freak out if you get within 20 yards of the car ahead as its slowing and you’re moving to the adjacent lane to pass it. Bright red lights flash, buzzers sound – and most freaky of all, the car suddenly slows on its own, even though you’re trying to accelerate in order to execute the passing maneuver and are quite capable of judging how much room you’ve got and doing the move safely.

The presumption, of course, is that you are not capable. That you are Coke-bottled glaucomic imbecile and thus require . . . assistance.

The light-and-buzzer show will freak out some drivers the first time they experience it – and probably cause some of them to panic, jam on the brakes or jerk the wheel. This is not very saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafe.

Like the steering “assist,” most people who haven’t been in a new car recently – in the past five years or so – have no idea that new cars are equipped with this potentially very dangerous stuff, much less how it works and what to expect and how to deal with it.

You’d think the government would be “concerned.” If, of course, it really did care about our saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety. 

. . .

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51 COMMENTS

  1. even more dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists. everyday i drive in the northeast and pass at least one bicyclists on main roads. i need to move over into the other lane or onto those nopass lines. imagine doing this and the computers shoves you right back over and you hit the biker. whose fault? the drivers obviously. safety…nope. control by Fed…yup.

  2. the most dangerous part of all is driving a car with all this stuff for a while and then hopping into an older car and backing up expecting the radar to go offf when you get close to hitting something, except that the radar isnt on this car….

  3. Yeh, suppose a child runs in front of you and you don’t have time to signal the hard left swerve as you panic brake? “Steady as she goes, Cap’n!”

    THUMP-THUMP!

    Dead kid. Thanks braniacs!

  4. Oh dear Gawd! Looks like BMW is both answering my question and positioning itself to be the supplier of this soulless T-1000 on ‘wheels’. My Dad used to say he thought the human life span was about right, because if you lived much longer you wouldn’t be able to stand the changes you’d see. I think he was right.

    • I am not so sure about that. The human lifespan was pretty much set when things (well the details of daily lives) didn’t change much over hundreds of years.

      Also the great number of people who should remember how things used to be seem fully accumulated to the present and fully accepting of it.

      • Not all of us. Hardly a day goes by that doesn’t find me hoping I’ll wake up and find myself getting out of bed circa 1960, shaking my head over the bizarre Orwellian nightmare I just had. (Yes, I know we had a lot of problems back then – I was there – but by and large the world at least seemed to make some kind of sense.)

      • Brent, maybe it’s just my locale but people my age seem to mostly be disgusted with the current situation involving pretty much any subject.
        We “hicks) aren’t nearly as stupid as some would have you believe. The generation of 30 year old’s seem to have caught on as have the 20 year old’s.

        My Samsung has just taken a dump and both places I look for another phone with late 20’s and early 30’s people have concurred, as if everybody knows that Google was created by the CIA and Apple is devoting their resources to eliminating the scourge of people who remember a much freer nation….and world. They seem to speak of it as if everyone knows…..or should.

        I’ve had occasion in the past few years to speak with people my own age who are neighbors(5 ms
        iles, just about right for me and them both)who’ll get on their soapbox and enumerate the myriad ways this country has gone to shit.

        I speak with people of all ages(maybe its because we grew up before the Bush/Cheney evil did their worst……but it only takes a mention of many things that have come to pass in the last 18 years(let’s be clear, the Clintigua era was bad enough but the following Republican/self-described Neocon tyranny that simply waited for the attack of 9/11 brought the worst of the worst to everyone.

        I grew up in a time when Texans had more in common with Mexico than DC. All my life I heard people denigrating DC and politicians in general.

        Hell, we hated our own pols the sheeple elected to office.

        And for all of you that Vietnam wasn’t the foremost thing in your life, you can never get the full import of how that shitty war, created by pols and corporations divided this country. We virtually had a war in this country and “civil” was definitely one thing it wasn’t. Well, gotta go, Author has just about done me in. This last round in the patch and the ongoing round now would have found me making 3 times as much money as an electrician as a truck driver although I prefer being mobile and perpetually “lost”. As Bevin said, and I won’t try to quote it, no one beats age. Bevin, what was that exact quote?

        • But still, a when a person lived for 90 years or so centuries ago nothing much had changed through his entire lifetime.

          There’s almost nothing left of the world I lived in when I was 6 years old. I’ve probably got another 4-5 decades to go. There will be nothing left of now by then.

          • Morning, Brent!

            This is so true. The rate of change we’re experiencing is astonishing. The world which existed circa 1980 is – as you say – almost entirely gone. The tangible things as well as the intangible things. We have experienced great strides in certain areas and great regression in others. It’s all a lot to take in.

    • I have blind-spot detection on my 1970s-vintage ride via a couple of inexpensive stick-on spot mirrors. About all that can go wrong with them would be fall off, in which case they can be replaced for just a few bucks.

  5. If texting while driving is illegal, then why isn’t punching and swiping a multi layered center dash screen ????

  6. Theye have saddled us all with this saaaaaaffffffeeeeetttty nonsense, roadblocks, cops hut hutting about at every corner, ready to pounce at a moment’s notice for the slightest infraction, a surveillance grid that would have made East Germany drool…and the result is:

    “US has highest rate of increase in traffic deaths in world”
    http://www.recorder.com/More-cars-on-the-road-and-more-distracted-drivers-lead-to-a-jump-in-US-traffic-deaths-17839893

    Which of course only makes the Safety Nazis double down on the tyranny, in the article above they praise the “Vision Zero” programs in other nations, which is the same stultifying safety gulag mindset that has infected workplaces, the idea that you can be successful and productive and profitable while having zero incidents or accidents.

    You think it’s bad now?

    Just wait until that’s implemented across the board on the roads.

    And at some point in time, in your homes. Keep in mind, three TIMES as many people die from slips, trips and falls around the home, than those who die in car crashes.

    The bleating mob of Safety Nannies will eventually get around to “cracking down” on that as well.

    “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.” ― C.S. Lewis

  7. Motorists like doing some really stupid stuff around me when I am bicycling. It sounds as if these safety systems would have motorist plow right into me.

  8. I can’t wait for half a generation of moron drivers to become accustomed to lane warnings, back-up cameras, and blind-spot monitors when the first generation of cars thus equipped start to break down, leaving these drivers helpless, vibrating, neurotic messes, unable to function with just their two eyes, two ears, and brain.

  9. This crap is crazy. My insurance rates have risen almost 30% in the last 2 years. Much of this is due to an increase in the costs to repair vehicles, which I believe amounts to about 70% of all insurance company payouts. Its a scam.

    • Yeah, my insurance went up that SAME amount last 2 years too. I called my agent, they told me it was because there’s “more drivers on the road”… what the?! From migrants??? I believe it’s partly because of the big floods in TX and other areas, and also I believe it’s from greed – why not charge more money when their customers can’t say no because it’s the law that we have to have insurance.

  10. Since the column mentioned automated cars, I thought Eric might enjoy a chance to exercise the more malevolent side of his imagination in a future column. Robo-cars face even more difficulties than safely negotiating traffic, roadway issues, and navigation. I don’t think it’s wise to deploy a multi-thousand dollar automated, but vulnerable machine into a hostile world. Everyone’s seen the graffiti on the side of passing boxcars. Imagine the robo-car ventures into West Philly, or becomes a temporary homeless shelter, or perhaps a rolling public restroom. Everyone encounters jerks in traffic on a daily basis. How will these jerks will behave around a helpless automated car? How about more serious vandalism – like busting off the antenna or casual target practice?
    I think that column would become one of my all-time favorites if it’s ever written.

    • My prediction is that the aggressive assholes in traffic will exploit the automated features in other people’s cars. They will act more aggressively knowing the other guy’s car will automatically slam on the brakes to avoid hitting his own car. They will use that to make gaps in traffic. I’ve seen what these people are willing to do now, this won’t be a big leap for them. There will likely be a way for them to ‘troll’ lane departure prevention and other things as well.

      • Right. There are social cues that robots can never be programmed to understand. I will be one of those people forcing the robot-car into the right lane and out of the left (if its servo brain can even fathom being in the left lane).

  11. My grandmother’s ’60 LeSabre had the “tattle tale” buzzer and adjustabloe wheel on the dash, as well. Whenever she got to about 80 or so she would tell me or my older brother to nudge the wheel up a bit to keep it quiet, lol! That car had no seatbelts anywhere! The instrument panel was printed bacxkwards, and faced up at the roof, and your read the gauges in a tilting “height adjustable” mirror in front of you. It also had a one-speed automatic transmission. We still have it at my mother’s house, waiting for one of us to restore.

  12. Last year I drove my mom’s new car after it had rained, and the lane departure warning kept going off apparently because it interpreted all the squiggly wet pavement patches as lane lines!

    It also beeped every time I drove it into her garage because there is, you know, an obstacle in front of it: the back of the garage – duh!

    Fortunately, she finally decided to sell it at a loss rather than let it set in the garage for months on end.

    I wonder how long it will be before one of these lane assist cars hits and kills a child because the driver tried to swerve to avoid a pedestrian and the car steers right back and hits him/her/them ??????

    • How are these cars going to handle construction zones where temporary lanes with barrels and cones are swerved over the actual lanes with no new striping? Plow into the barrels and kill a few construction guys. Maybe the car will fidget and come to a stop and explode because it can’t comprehend such a scenario. What about older/poorer roads that don’t have stripes or partial stripes here and there? In my morning commute I drive through a part of Houston where there are NO lane stripes but it is a three lane road. The daily commuters know the drill and just give each other space. There are some faded and partial stripes present so I imagine the robot car will just push other cars away or come to a stop.

      • Out where I live there are not only no lines – there is no pavement.

        Will be interesting when and if all this crap gets into the one ton pickups that we use as a base for wildland fire engines. Sometimes we deliberately use the brush guard to drive over small pine trees.

  13. I am thankful that I am old enough to remember the Vrooooom factor in motoring.
    There would be a long up-hill ahead and your Dad would put his foot flat as he could on the down hill side, the car would begin to shimmy and the steering wheel would waggle, the engine revs would climb and you would stand on the prop tunnel between the front seats. The car hit the flat (usually a bridge) and the suspension would bottom out, the exhaust scraping as the road angled up too quickly. Your knees would feel the ‘G’s as the change of direction pushed your body down.
    You had been holding your breath, not even Superman could travel that quickly. Both you and your Dad had big grins, and your Mom would tell him not to be so childish.
    I had a Nissan Skyline GTX and a (Plastic copy) of a Ford Cobra (303 cu inch block) in later life but the Vrooooooom factor of my childhood still lingers.

  14. To give you all some perspective on how far we’ve come:

    My 1968 Oldsmobile Delta 88 came equipped with an option called the “Safety Sentinel.” On the speedometer was a second needle that you set with a knob similar to a trip odometer to the speed limit or whatever speed you chose. When you exceeded that speed, a loud and annoying buzzer sounded. The previous owner unplugged the buzzer. I plugged it back in, but set the needle all the way to 120 MPH. That’s because I wanted to show off this option from time to time, but only when I wanted to. At least with this option, I could disable it, or better yet, not order it. I believe other GM cars had it, and it was called “poor man’s cruise control.”

    When I bought my WRX in 2001, the dealer asked me if I had ever owned a car with AWD and ABS. This was the first car I’ve ever had worth those options, so the dealer recommended that I practice driving in the parking lot of an abandoned mall after the first snow to learn how they worked. It was quite an unnerving feeling when I first experienced the loud pulsating brake pedal! I affixed a Post-it note to the dash reminding me to “stomp and steer” instead of taking my foot off the brake until I got used to it.

    • The purpose of a user settable speed buzzer was to avoid speeding tickets. My grandfather had it in his ’76 olds and used it for that purpose. It was one those devices that was subversively marketed for safety but was really for something else.

      • Exactly. And with a land yacht like an Olds Delta 88 or 98, you can get the needle awful close to the century mark without feeling it too much.

  15. On a slightly different but somewhat related note – another one crashed his tesla on autopilot, as he didnt thing he should pay attention ! As always the muskrat is quick to blame someone else, saying that Greece is part of eastern Europe where teslas are not supported (when its part of the EU where they are present! Guess hes really getting desperate for excuses)

    https://electrek.co/2018/05/25/tesla-model-3-unofficial-road-trip-crash-driver-blames-autopilot/

    • The TM fan bois keep saying that people are supposed to pay attention. But they won’t pay attention. Any decent engineer knows this. This TM “autopilot” system could not have passed through a reasonable FMEA process. It either wasn’t done or ignored or they scored it so it could get through even though they knew better.

    • just read the article. The owner wasn’t supposed to take the car to eastern europe because it has no connectivity there and so on. Why buy one of these things if it needs such infrastructure? I can get in a 1950 Ford or a 1990s camry and travel the world without issue. A model T ford can still go anywhere if one is willing to put up with the discomforts.

      • Hi Brent,

        That actually looks like an excuse – it was in Greece – which is a part of the EU, where they do sell and support cars. Infact there is a whole bunch of noise that he is making an R&D or manufacturing facility out there now….

  16. It started with that annoying beep when you didnt buckle up.. then went to a ding when you went over a certain speed..now the car nags you at each and every opportunity it seems. The thing with those beeps and dings was you could always cut the wire or something and make it go away. Now – i dont think it will be possible going forward.

    Its worst on a rental…. you dont know when it will ding and beep and what everything means…. some years back rented a car, when you got too close to something it vibrated under your arse. happened when I was pulling to the gate to leave the rental lot – jumped in my seat…. guy in the booth laughed and told me what it was. Was a laugh letting brothers / wife discover it on their own….

  17. I’ve got both lane-assist and emergency braking on an ’18 300. I can turn off the lane assist and almost always leave it off, unless I’m on a long trip on the interstate. It does a pretty good job of not being to intrusive (to me).
    The emergency braking thing is not to my liking, mostly because it puts my brakes on hard when a car in front is turning off the road, or even sometimes when a car is parked close to the road on a turn. I think it may lead to getting rear ended sometime in the future, we’ll see. And I can’t turn it off.

  18. Eric, in 5 or 10 years are we going to see a significant appreciation in value of vehicles that are “dumb”?

    I’m thinking there will be a huge demand from rational, independent thinkers for vehicles that are engines on steel frames with classic lines. Without the turbo-chargers, LED dashboards, Energizer batteries, and EFFIN dings/alarms/buzzers for every time you put the car in reverse or forget to lick the EPA’s ass.

  19. First time I got into a rental that had these things I didn’t know and when they kicked in, they unnerved me. I found the first place I could to pull over and find out how to shut all this crap off.
    I’ve been driving for over 30 years and the only two accidents I’ve had are someone hit the car behind me, so they hit me and, on my bike, I hit a woodland creature who didn’t understand the rules of the road and ran at me as I was doing 50. I focus on driving when I’m in the car and leave everything else alone.
    I like buying new cars (now that I have the ability to, financially) and depreciation isn’t a concern for me as I drive them for years and years, but I think my next purchase will move backwards and find an older car that’s been restored. I love technology but this is all bullshite.

    • Amen, Gabe.

      I have no problem with this stuff being available, but it’s being force-fed to us. The car companies haven’t just embraced automated car technology, they are leg-humping it like an old coon hound because (a) they see it as a money-maker and (b) they have caved in utterly to the Safety Cult and now try to anticipate and out-do the Nader/Claybrook types by beating them to the punch with new saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety technology even before the government gets around to mandating it.

      Sigh.

      Remember when most car companies enticed you with sex appeal, or power or efficiency or something besides saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety?

  20. Over the past holiday weekend (you know, the holiday that glorifies human sacrifice on the altars of the war gods) Nissan had a commercial (featuring a soy-boy, no less) touting their lane assist. It showed someone letting go of the steering wheel while the wheel “corrected”. Great. Take your hands off the wheel, what could possibly go wrong?

    I guess the Darwin Awards will have numerous new entries in the coming years.

    • These commercials piss me off to no end. They always show the aforementioned soy-boy retard diddling on a phone or looking in the back seat at his queer passengers or oblivious suburban mom reaching for star bucks while on the phone instead of F-ing driving. Then wham deus ex machina the new wonder boy technology saves their dumb asses when nature should have taken over and removed them from the road. Shame the new nissan titans and just about every truck has this brake assist on it now for suburban joe six pack to drive around. Just about every new truck is as loud as a sewing machine these days, not something im interested in when ‘driving’.
      Said it before many times, the two vehicles my wife and I own now will be our last until things improve.

  21. You can turn almost all that stuff off. For now. ABS, the first “assistant,” can’t go away. Of course now when I put the Cherokee in reverse I get a warning chime and caution light on the dash reminding me that parking assist is disabled. Every time I shift into reverse. Including the multiple times I shift when parallel parking or if I need to straighten out in a parking space. The alternative is to have parking assist on and a constant stream of beeps and buzzes as I approach something that only a first year driver might hit. The parking assist is kind of interesting technology in that it buzzes in the direction of the potential hazard but that’s really not all that useful when I can see the hazard anyway.

    I tried to use lane keeper for about a year, but found it was pretty much not needed, and as you said, tends to want you in one place in the lane no matter what. So if Uncle hasn’t gotten around to filling in potholes or wheel ruts worn into the lane and you decide to straddle them by riding “too close” to the white or center line you’ll be pushed back into the damage. And if you’re on a long straight section of road you’ll be nagged to “put your hands on the steering wheel” since it didn’t detect any wheel movement for a period of time. Well of course not, it’s a straightaway. Maybe Chrysler’s programmers can’t believe they built a car capable of tracking in a straight line. I know that surprised the heck out of me after driving old K-cars in the 1990s.

    The only real positive feature is the adaptive cruise control system. But that’s only because everyone drives whatever speed they want these days. I was taught to travel with traffic, but I guess that’s not the case anymore. Now it’s do whatever you feel, anywhere you like. And I still have to do a lot of overriding of the system because it is overly cautious in acceleration.

    • Thankfully I can simply pull the ABS fuse. But even on newer cars, can’t you just pull the wire harness/connector off of the ABS unit, or cut a wire? IOW just pull/cut off it’s power plug?

  22. With all this “nudging” toward cattle-car like transportation (alles in ordnung und Arbeit macht Frei!), what do you think they’ll ultimately try to do to us bikers? Motorcycles, that is. Maybe it’s time for Rush to write a new song…

    • Hi Bill,

      Indeed. Bikes are not adaptable to all this saaaaaaafety stuff and bikers are not amenable to the idea of automated bikes; what would be the point, after all?

      I suspect bikes will be left for last – but inevitably, there will be a push to get them off the road. For saaaaaaaaaaaafety, of course.

      • I think this “safety” crap will be used to outlaw human drivers. In many cases, the safety crap will be the cause of the crash, but it will never be seen that way by those making the rules (not us).

        The talk will move to, “you still crash even with all this safety gear, so its time to get rid of drivers”. Thats how it will go. You can count on that.

        • Hi Torino,

          This made me almost physically ill. Do these geeks really not understand what a bike is all about? That it’s about being in control of the thing? That if you’re not, then why bother?

          I feel more and more like Charleton Heston at the end of the Planet of the Apes, when he’s on the beach and finds the ruin of the Statue of Liberty…

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